Upon reaching the edge of the woods, Avalon hands his companions three gemstones.
“These are highly experimental seeking stones. They will help us locate our targets,” said Avalon.
“How do they work?” said Cynbel. Avalon quickly explains to them that stones, like his medallion, glow and hum when close to their destinations. In this case, Richard and his gang. Tying the rocks around the necks, the groups split up and went about searching.
Decimus and Tyra began to follow Mori’s trail and used the stone to help them in their search. As the duo searched further into the woods, the landscape around them began to change. No longer in thick woodlands, now they were surrounded by exotic plants and trees with vines and thick as snakes.
It appeared that they had wandered into a jungle of some sort. Even the air was different, fresh and clean, instead of musty. The roman and Viking looked around them and could not help but admire the tranquil scenery.
“It sure is beautiful here,” said Tyra.
“I agree, but we cannot afford to idle, we have to keep moving.” After walking through the jungle floor for a while, Decimus horse begins to tire and stops herself for some much-needed rest. Even the Basilisk decides to do the same. Getting off from their mounts, Tyra and Decimus walk their beasts to a nearby watering hole.
They had to keep moving, but they also realized that their animals needed water. Taking a minor break, the Roman pulls out the some again. The color was still faint and humming softly, telling them they still had ways to go.
“I just hope we find them soon before Kairos and his men do,” said the roman soldier. Sitting next to Decimus, Tyra asks him a question.
“What is your home like Decimus?” said Tyra. The old Roman had to think about that.
“Well, Rome is a....nation, unlike any other. For the first time in history, you have a group of individuals who work together for the betterment of the republic. It is so beautiful, especially if you live in the countryside,” said Decimus
“Is that where you live?” Tyra asked. Decimus nodded.
“My family and I have a villa further south. Or I should say “had.” Before this, I was in a war against Rome’s enemy, Carthage. Me, my men, and the rest of the army were at the mercy of the barbarian. So I fled, and the rest is history. Now I fear my family may be dead, or I will die before I see them again.
“It seems the gods have paired us together,” said the shieldmaiden.
“I was in a similar engagement with my enemies, the Franks, en route to Paris. We had plans to raid the city but met fierce resistance. Now I have a sinking feeling that my Viking brothers and sisters have failed.”
“Why did you invade?” questioned Decimus
“Honestly, I do not know. We had already sacked the city three times and took all we needed. In my opinion, I believe we got greedy and wanted more.”
“Your people raid other kingdoms?”
“Yes, you see Decimus, we Vikings raid, not for territory or politics, but wealth. Where I am from, Europe is wealthy, places like Italy, England, and Francia are teeming with treasures. Also, they have access to all the major trade routes in Europe. As for my home, it is nice, but many people want to settle elsewhere. Its cold, not much to do, and frankly, I have nothing there.”
“What do you mean.” Before Tyra could go further, the stone began to glow brighter. The two of them quickly got up and went back to their mounts. Getting settled, the duo followed the stone’s directions, leading them further into the jungle. As they look around them, they noticed the landscape around them begins to change.
No longer were there lush trees and vines, now they encountered the thick, dense undergrowth of the jungle. They had to stop as they realized they could not go any further on their beasts. Once more tying them to a tree, the pair continued on foot.
“How much further Decimus?”
“Not much farther, according to the stone.” The object in the Roman’s hand was glowing and humming at an increasing rate. Upon reaching a brief clearing in the undergrowth, the gemstone stops humming but continues to shine. Placing a hand on their weapons, the two warriors studied their surroundings.
The vegetation was thick and dense, allowing the perfect cover for Mori. Placing the stone back in his pocket, the Roman took out his sword and shield and prepared to defend himself. Tyra did the same. Just as they made for the unexpected, suddenly, there is a shot in the night, and a bullet flies through the air, just grazing the top of Decimus helmet. The shooting takes the Roman by surprise.
“That was a warning shot, Decimus. Next one goes into your heart,” said a voice. It was Mori, who had taken up a sniper position somewhere in the vegetation around them. Tyra and Decimus hide behind the Roman shield and discuss their plan of action.
“He has us pinned down, what do we do?” asked Tyra.
“I’ll cause a diversion, have him focus on me. Once that happens, run into the vegetation and try to locate him. If you find him, capture him and bring him,” said Decimus.
“Sounds risky, I like it,” replied Tyra. Before she left, Decimus gave her some words of encouragement.
“Be careful and wait until my signal,” said Decimus. The Viking nodded. Slowly separating, the Roman looks over the top of his shield. He then makes taunting remarks at Mori, hoping to draw him out again.
“Is that your best shot? I’ve seen barbarians shoot better than you with one arm.” Another bullet zips past the Roman’s head.
That was close, he thought to himself. Tyra tried to locate the shots’ location, but the vegetation was too thick for her to see.
“Try one more,” she whispered. Decimus gave it another go.
“I wonder how your friends would see Richard’s betrayal? They would probably kill themselves all over again.” This struck a nerve in Mori. This time, the samurai aimed for the Romans unprotected knees.
Firing another shot, the bullet flies through the brush and goes a little lower, going through Decimus leg instead of his knee. The pain forces him to fall to the ground, clutching his leg. However, in taking this opportunity, Mori accidentally exposed himself for a moment as the moonlight was over his position.
Tyra took this as the signal and quietly went into the vegetation to ambush the samurai. Not only had she been quiet for her sake, but if she made a sound, that would alert Mori and put Decimus in even greater danger.
Moving through the broad brush, she could barely see her hand out in front of her in the dark. She had to rely on what vision she had and especially her hearing. As she wandered through the jungle, she heard a branch snap behind her, followed by a clicking sound.
“Going somewhere?” said a voice.
“Skit,” she cursed. The voice told her to turn around slowly. Doing so, she could see the faint outline of Mori’s armor.
“A good tactic, but predictable. Let’s go.” The samurai motions the Viking to take him to Decimus. Making their way back, the roman soldier perched himself up against a tree, a cloth wrapped around his leg. Seeing Tyra and Mori, Decimus cursed their luck.
“Are you alright?” he asked. Tyra told him that she was okay. Pushing her to the ground, Mori, rifle still aimed at her, turned to the Roman.
“We told you not to follow us,” said Mori.
“What can we say? Were rebels,” said Decimus.
“I commend your bravery. Foolish, but admirable.”
“We had to give it a shot. You can still turn back.”
“What makes you think I won’t shoot you both right now.”
“You would have done it by now. I saw your face back in the village. You do not fully agree with Richard’s plan. Deep down, you know this is wrong.” Mori was hesitant momentarily.
Though he has trusted Richard with his life for these past five years, in the deep recesses of his mind, this was wrong. Taking the rifle away from Tyra’s head, he helps her up. Her response to him was a punch to the face.
The blow knocks Mori off balance and on his but. His nose began to drip blood.
“I deserve that,” said the samurai. Then Tyra offers her hand to him. Helping him up, the three began to assist Decmius wound when they hear a roar echo throughout the jungle.
“What in the gods’ name was that?” said Tyra.
“Demeter,” said Mori. Demeter, known as the lord of the woods, was a lieutenant under the command of Ares. She could turn into any woodland creature, both foreign and domestic.
“Can you stand?” said Mori. The Roman slowly gets himself off the ground and grabs his sword and shield. As the three humans huddled around each other, they hear another roar, this time louder.
All three gather their strength as they know an attack is coming. Then silence. For a while, there is nothing, not even the sounds of birds. This does not bode well.
“Where the hell....” Just then, bursting out of the foliage, a tattered, black-furred beast charges at the heroes. It pushed aside Tyra and Mori and lunged itself at the Roman. Decimus raised his shield up to protect himself and felt the monster’s weight on top of him. Then the beast, with its massive paws, grabbed Decimus’s wounded leg.
With its sheer strength, it throws the Roman across the floor. He roars in pain as he landed hard on the floor, and the shock of it breaks his leg. Before he could react, the beast bites down on the damaged limb and causes even more pain. Decimus screams and stabs viciously into the beasts’ neck. His swords pierced the thick skin of the creature and forced the monster to back away.
With the creature moving away, Tyra jumps from behind and beats her clubs into the monster’s head. Over and over, her clubs tear skin and draw blood. In a fit of rage, the beast slams backward against a tree, hitting Tyra.
The Viking slumps down to the floor in pain. Just then, she looks and sees the creature reared its head at her. As the beast prepared to kill its prey, it is shot in the side by Mori, who managed to get up and fire off another shot.
“Hello, Demeter,” said Mori. The samurai lowers his gun and pulls out his katana and wakizashi.
“Hello, Mori,” said the beast. The two then circle each other, watching to see when to strike. Mori kept one blade up and the other down. He had to time his strike perfectly as he knew he only had one chance.
The night air became still, and none said a word. Suddenly, the two stop circling and stare down each other. Mori held in his breath while Demeter arched her body, ready to strike.
In the blink of an eye, Demeter lashes out at Mori, making the first move. At first, the samurai did nothing and almost waited for the talon-like claws to reach his face. Then with a lightning strike, he cuts Demeter down in one move, cutting her stomach open and exposing all her guts.
The blow stops Demeter in her tracks as she quickly fell to the ground, blood and guts everywhere. Her eyes widen, and her breathing grew faster. Mori then cleans his sword and sheathes it back.
Limping her way over to Decimus, the Viking help bandage the wound as best she could. She gathered two pieces of wood and made a splint for the roman soldier. Binding his leg together tightly, she helped her friend get back to his feet.
“How do you feel?” said Tyra with concern.
“Like hell, but I’ll manage,” said Decimus. The pair then turn to Mori.
“Thanks,” said Decimus. Mori nods.
“A samurai can not stand the shame of betrayal. In normal circumstances, I would take my own life. But in these circumstances, you may need it.”
Helping his friends to their mounts, Mori began putting his stuff away until he heard a dying laugh. He turns around and notices that Demeter was smiling, blood dripping from her muzzle and her expression in a toothy grin.
“Why do you smile,” said Mori. Demeter could only manage to say a few words.
“Think....smart?....All are dead.....They...are...hereeeeeeee-” Demeter’s eyes roll to the back of her head.
“Already here? Who is she referring too?” said Tyra. Soon Mori’s eyes widen with realization.
“Oh no,” he said. Getting onto of Decimus' horse, he told them that they must reach the arena immediately. Before they could ask, he tells them that there is no time to explain. Pulling out the stone once more, Decimus and the others use it to help them move through the forest and hopefully make it to the arena in time.
For just above the trees, mighty wings watched from above.
Mighty, dragon wings.